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Posted by on Aug 6, 2013 | 0 comments

Danielle and Casey’s Eco Modern Rowhouse, Part 3

Danielle and Casey’s Eco Modern Rowhouse, Part 3

The title of this story should be something like DIY Disasters or Home Improvement Hell. I’m sure that’s how Danielle and Casey probably felt during the long, arduous 10-year renovation of their Del Ray rowhouse. Before we get into what went wrong, let’s take a quick look at the masterful finished product.


We introduced you to Danielle and Casey back in May when we shared the eco-friendly elements of their house such as the impressive green roof, 300-gallon rain water cistern and native plant landscaping.


Then a few weeks later we took you inside their home to see the amazing modern addition on the back of their house and the kitchen Danielle built from scratch.



We mentioned that the renovation of the home took a long time, especially with a few bumps along the way. That’s kind of an understatement. Here are a few of the “issues” they faced.

Green Slime and Asbestos


As you may recall, when Danielle bought the house in 2001, it was a foreclosure in practically deplorable condition. This probably sums it up nicely: “I wish I could also give you a scratch and sniff sticker for the dishwasher and sink cabinet, which contained, respectively, the most disgusting stagnant water & green slime, and moldy, semi-dissolved particle board with about fifty dead roaches.”


Her friends thought she was crazy, “Mostly it was the tar, gravel, and wet insulation falling through the foot-wide hole in the roof that struck fear in the eyes of my friends….but I had a mortgage approval letter and a dream.”

One of the early projects Danielle started was completely gutting the disgusting kitchen. The first renovation snag was finding asbestos wrapping the ducts in the wall between the kitchen and dining room. (If you’ve renovated a mid-century Del Ray rowhouse you are probably very familiar with this ugly predicament.) Waiting for asbestos abatement companies to safely remove the cancer-causing insulation, Danielle had to put her renovations on hold. This was the state of her kitchen for the following seven months.


A Rotting Tree Comes Tumbling Down

After the kitchen, Danielle and her husband Casey decided to put an addition on the back of the house. It would be a three-level addition with the third level as a green roof deck. At about month nine of this project (after a six month delay), her contractor started pouring concrete and building walls. The day before the roofer was scheduled to arrive, the neighbor’s rotting 70-foot maple tree split in half and landed on their day-old framing job.


It got worse, Danielle tells us, “And about an hour after the tree fell, the drought broke and it rained on our freshly framed and sheathed addition for two weeks straight with no roof because the neighbor’s insurance wouldn’t pay to remove the tree… I craughed — I cried and laughed til it hurt.”

The good news is the tree also took down the Verizon line they had also been fighting to bury for months without success. Verizon came a few days later and finally did their work. Miraculously, the framing for the addition only suffered a slight dent in the parapet wall from the tree.

The bad news is this was the state of the basement part of the addition for the next several weeks: filled with a dank, rank liquid.


Flooding, Mold and Lawsuits

If having a basement filled with water wasn’t bad enough, without a roof and thanks to a contractor who didn’t seal the walls or properly install the drain for the basement, every time it rained things got worse. As Danielle tells us, “we essentially had a giant, undrained hole in which our vulnerable little addition sat, like an unhappy baby in a dirty diaper.”

For the next few months, two or three times a day, they used a submersible pump to drain the basement.


Water plus unsealed walls equals mold. Lots of unhealthy black mold.


You can probably guess what they did next — they fired the contractor, filed a lawsuit and hired someone new.

The second contractor’s suggestion for a french drain would have been a good one had he done his homework.


Apparently, the contractor didn’t bother to check the grade from the addition to the alley, where the french drain was designed to exit. If he had, he would have known that there was not enough of a slope to have the water from the drain. So instead of flowing freely into the alley, the sump exited below the level of the alley, which created a giant cesspool and also caused water to back up to the house and leak into the lower level. Adios second contractor. Another lawsuit filed.


They finally hired MER/Morrison who were the most expensive contractor but had the best warranty and were the most highly rated. Fortunately, the third time was a charm and their basement was waterproof. From there, the renovations were finally on the right track, Danielle’s vision was finally coming to life.


The transformation from a stagnant cesspool to clean (!) and modern home is nothing short of remarkable. I’m not sure how they made it through with so many setbacks, but it shows how you can survive renovation hell with a strong vision and determination. A good sense of humor helps too.


We’d love to know what DIY disasters and renovation nightmares you’ve faced. Anything on par with what happened to Danielle and Casey?

For more humorous accounts of Danielle’s renovation and DIY projects, check out her blog or feel free to post a comment or question below.

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